Long-range shooting is all the rage these days. The market abounds with rifles, scopes and gear specifically designed to permit accurate hits well beyond the far side of a quarter-mile. The refinement of practical and affordable range-finders helped get the ball rolling, as did recent scope developments. The latest involve a marriage of both technologies. We can even use a scope to zap the range and aim using a balletically corrected point. It’s the “techy” side of gun land, and downright fascinating – but also quite expensive!
by Steve Markwith, author of Rimfire Rifles: A Buyer’s and Shooter’s Guide
I’ll admit to sharing an interest in this type of shooting. There’s something satisfying about whacking a gong or rock several football fields away. However, for many of us limiting factors involve both financial resources and a practical location. Even if you’re fortunate enough to surmount such issues, the price of ammo and logistics may dent you wallet.
What to do? How about scaling things down? A carefully chosen .22 LR, with a similar manual-of-arms, can be used at greater distances than many folks realize.
Related article: Modern Airguns: Calibers, Power, and Types
Although the various AR platforms can really shoot, most serious long-range work still happens with a heavy-barreled bolt gun. As often as not, the rifle will be a Remington or Savage capable of sub-MOA accuracy. This translates to 5-shot groups smaller than one inch at 100 yards – sometimes way smaller!
Don’t expect to grab just any .22 in hopes of achieving similar results. After going through a small fortune trying to find a .22 rimfire capable of similar accuracy, I sprung for an Anschutz M-1416 DHB. I’m thinking a heavy-barreled Savage might have done the job for lots less, but I already owned a Anschutz .17 HMR, and wanted a twin.
I also had a Burris 4×12 AO Rimfire Scope on hand with target turrets, and a large stash of .22 LR Federal Gold Medal Target 40 grain ammo. The gods smiled and a winning combination emerged. I added QD sling-swivel studs, including an extra one up front for attachment of a Harris Bipod.
Finally realizing the MOA goal, it was time to enjoy some entertainment. We’ll often shoot golf balls from a prone field-position, using an agency .308 off a bipod at 100 yards. For recruits, it’s good precision-shooting demonstration. Switching out paintballs on golf tees at 50 yards will provide a similar challenge if your .22 can maintain 1/2″ groups (1 MOA).
I tried Saltine crackers at 100 yards, which were fairly easy but not too spectacular (they just showed a hole instead of breaking). Fired shotgun shells at 50 yards are fun, as are empty 9mm cases at 25 yards. You get the idea. Just plop down in prone, extend your bipod legs, and have some fun.
Scaling rimfire shooting to center-fire ranges, I found an online chart equating a .22 at 200 yards to a .308 at about 510 yards. Jumping back to our 200-yard bench, I drew an aiming circle on the head of an IPSC target positioned above two more, the idea being to record any hits well below my point of aim. The same chart listed 68″ of drop at 200 yards, using .22 LR target ammo zeroed for 50 yards.
Carefully maintaining level crosshairs, I adjusted the parallax setting and launched 5 very careful shots in dead-calm air. The group was higher than expected, but still around 50″ low. Surprisingly, true MOA capability was maintained, the cluster measuring around two inches. Look closely and you can see it at the juncture of the lower two targets.
A good centerfire rifle cartridge will probably set you back around $1.50 per shot. A decent .22 LR round will cost about twice as much as plinker-grade ammo, but will only set you back about twelve cents. You can spring for the most expensive match-grade rimfire loads and spend only around 30% of big-bore cost. In my experience the bargain loads, which are perfectly adequate for general plinking, just won’t produce repeatable top-flight accuracy. You’ll need to reach into the next tier or beyond, shooting numerous choices during controlled conditions in order to determine a winner.
I test.22 rifles off a good sandbag rest, at 50 yards, in dead-calm air. The last part is the hardest. It doesn’t take much of a breeze to open your groups, as shown by the target. The upper groups were fired in a very light crosswind. Once you have a good load you can add practice to address wind; the nemesis of all long-range shooters.
While burning several hundred rounds during serious testing, you’re precision skills should improve. Due to lower velocity and longer bore-time, follow-through is essential. I place all my focus on those crosshairs, before, during, and after each shot. The slightest glitch will be aggravatingly evident, but will hone your rifle ability in all areas.
Speaking of crosshairs, getting really crazy, you can fool around with ballistic aiming systems which rely on hold-over reticles. Here’s just one example involving the above Burris 4-12X scope: Back at 200 yards, I tried using its bottom Ballistic-Plex hashmark without changing my 50-yard zero. The Burris reticle didn’t provide enough elevation at this range, so I added more with the scope’s turret.
Through trial and error, the magic combination turned out to be 15 MOA of turret come-ups, use of the bottom B-plex line, and a 10x magnification setting (being a 2nd focal-plane design, the reticle’s values shift with magnification). These three factors provided +25 MOA needed to compensate for the 50-inch drop. Once sorted out, it was possible to make hits on 4-inch steel plates at 200 yards – as long as the wind wasn’t blowing.
For hunting purposes involving fleeting targets, I generally prefer hold-over lines to come-up clicks. But, especially at longer ranges, dead-on aiming is more precise. For this reason, experienced tactical operators rely on expensive scopes with repeatable elevation adjustments (some with ballistic reticles). Interestingly, some of this technology has spilled into formalized long-range .22 rimfire events involving targets out to 300 yards, or further! The optics necessary to effect such hits are worthy of another in-depth post, so stay tuned for more information.
Meanwhile, there’s a good chance you can have some fun with what you have. For example, many scopes have duplex-type crosshairs with thicker outer sections. The tip of the lower post can serve as a makeshift hold-over point for use at a longer distance, determined through actual shooting. We can legitimately call this practice, too. Semantics aside, it’s a great excuse to lob some lead at longish ranges without busting a budget. And, you can still stretch things out with your centerfire system as time and money permit.
Viola – the best of all worlds! How far have you (accurately) shot a .22lr?